When I asked readers to tell me about some of the plants they absolutely had to have in the garden, I got a variety of answers. Linda Tyler said she had to have coral bells, heucheras, in her garden because there is such variety in the foliage color and size.
Tyler did not specify which varieties she has in her garden, but a quick look through the garden catalogs like Plant Delights Nursery shows photos of Tiramisu with amber and chartreuse foliage, Frosted Violet has pinky purple foliage, and Citronelle has golden leaves. Heucheras are hardy plants making large clumps, about 18 inches in diameter, happy in part sun to light shade. The spikes of flowers are not always very exciting, but Paris is considered to have some of the best rosy flowers.
In addition to heucheras, heucherellas can now be found in garden centers and catalogs. Heucherellas are crosses between heucheras and tiarella, making for beautiful foliage and flowers. Golden Zebra is a Terra Nova hybrid with deeply lobed foliage and a nearly black pattern in the center. In the spring 18 inch bottlebrush white flowers rise above the 10 inch foliage.
Tyler also has a vegetable garden and she said Green Zebra tomatoes with their acidic flavor and wonderful striping are a must-have there. At the same time she said Chocolate Stripe and Cherokee Purple are pushing into first place. These are all considered heirloom varieties and noted for their rich flavor.
Tyler warns against hairy allium because it self seeds so readily and will run amok in the garden. It is always good to know about thugs, or at least the risk they might pose so one can be prepared.
Elise Schlaikjer says she has a beloved and very fragrant violet. “ I know it is blooming by the fragrance wafting up before I notice the blossoms, dear as they are. It travels by runners and I always make sure it is beside a path that is well used. The first plant was given to me about 35 or more years ago by a fellow member of the New England Unit of the Herb Society of America. And like the early settlers in this country, I have taken slips of it with me whenever I moved.”
The summer herb Schlaikjer requires is basil. “ It is hard to imagine a tomato or a salad without at least a few basil leaves to enhance their relationship.” I am assuming she refers to one of the more common basils like Genovese or Fino Verde, but there are others with slightly more exotic flavors like Sweet Thai or Lemon basil.
Schlaikjer also has a warning. Be careful with Queen of the Prairie. She grows it in her garden but watches closely for its “wandering feet” and takes the necessary action. I bought Queen of the Prairie last year and a friend said she could have given me all I wanted for free – it makes so many babies in her garden.
My friend and neighbor Lynn Perry often buys a few violas at Agway and Shelburne Farm and Garden in the spring, but she says they self seed all over the place, coming up between paving stones and everywhere. She just loves them in all their colors, purple, red. blue and a golden yellow.
She said her husband, Rol Hesselbart, would say garlic was the must-have, and he is a genius with garlic. He started me off with seed garlic from his garden and my garlic now gets almost as much praise as his.
She loves the old fashioned common lilac bushes, but acknowledged that the blossoms do not last long. She has a white variety as well. I told her about my Beauty of Moscow lilac which has fat pink buds that open to fragrant double white blossoms. Those flowers have quite a long bloom life. I told her to look for Beauty of Moscow at Shelburne Farm and Garden this spring.
Like Tyler she prefers heirloom tomatoes. She said Rose might be her favorite variety. It is very dense with not many seeds. The plants are not very large and don’t produce many tomatoes, but they are delicious, she said. Striped German, with broad red and gold stripes is another favorite for its flavor.
For myself, I’ve thought that if I had to really limit my garden, I would still need a tiny salad garden with a variety of greens, a couple of tomato plants and some herbs. For the past couple of years I have grown Renee’s Garden Ruby and Emerald Duet lettuces, packaged together. These two lettuce varieties, a small green butterhead and a mini red leaf lettuce are intended for container growing, but I grow them in the ground. They are ready for picking in 50 to 60 days.
There are heirloom lettuces, too. Renee has Merveille de Quatre Saisons. This is a bibb lettuce with red spotted green leaves, that I can harvest over a long season.
One of my favorite heirloom tomatoes is the little yellow pear. I first got the seeds from a friend. The seeds are very vital and it does not take much to keep this mild tomato going in the garden, in the ground or in a container.
Of course, you all know my must-have flower is the rose. I cannot begin to narrow it down more than that. Impossible.
Between the Rows March 3, 2012